EDITOR’S NOTE: This story appears in the July 2015 issue of Women’s Pro Rodeo News, the official publication of the WPRA. It is republished on this site with the approval of the WPRN.
Meghan Johnson has never really considered moving to Colorado, but competing in the Centennial State has been pretty nice.
“My mom always tells me I should claim the Mountain States Circuit,” said Johnson, a recent graduate from New Mexico State University.
Colorado has been pretty profitable for her already this year. She won the title at the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo in January, pocketing more than $12,000; she added more than $1,500 by winning the Elizabeth Stampede the first weekend in June.
More importantly, she and her mount, Nellie Laveaux, rounded the cloverleaf pattern in an arena-record time of 15.87 seconds, shattering the previous mark.
“I didn’t know anything about it until Randi Timmons told me after my run,” Johnson said of Timmons, a WPRA member from Elizabeth. “We got it by two-tenths this year, so that was pretty exciting.”
Johnson ran in slack on the morning of Sunday, June 7, when the arena was a tad bit muddy. Fortunately for her, Timmons knew the history and how the ground handled moisture better than most ladies in the field.
“Randi told me not to worry about it and that the ground was really good when it was wet,” said Johnson, of Deming, N.M. “We were 40th out in slack, but it seemed like the dirt was getting better as more girls were running on it.
“I just didn’t hold back.”
Neither did Nellie, a 14-year-old sorrel mare, who has proven to be solid in any kind of setup – from a small indoor pen like Denver Coliseum or a large outdoor arena like in Elizabeth.
“She doesn’t like it when it’s wet,” Johnson said. “The ground in Elizabeth was muddy, but there weren’t any puddles, so I worked out well for me to run her.”
As of the second week of June, she was eighth in the world standings with a little more than $37,000. She has parlayed some solid runs to earn big checks in San Angelo, Texas, and Tucson, Ariz., along with several other paydays. In fact, she also won in Silver City, N.M., and placed in Clovis, N.M., the opening weekend in June.
It’s all sort of a whirlwind for Johnson, who is just a few weeks removed from graduation ceremonies at New Mexico State in Las Cruses, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in agriculture business. A two-time College National Finals Rodeo qualifier, she opted to spend the final semester of her senior year focusing on school and ProRodeo.
“My family has always been big on education,” she said. “I always took school seriously. I hustled for four years so I could be on the road. Plus it’s nice to have that fall-back option.”
Right now, though, she won’t need it. She and fellow barrel racer Ann Thompson have a tentative schedule in place and plan to make a run at Johnson’s first qualification to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
“She’s entering for me, and she knows I don’t want to haul very much,” Johnson said. “I’ not going to be a crazy person out on the road. We’re going to try to pick the ones we think we can do good at and make them count.”
She’s done pretty well at that so far. By putting together a solid winter run, she has set herself up to chase Las Vegas through the rest of the regular season.
“I wasn’t really wanting to go this hard,” said Johnson, who credits Hi Pro Feeds, Biocare Animal Products, Arizona Oxy-Gen and Juli Miller Wade Saddle Pads for helping her get up and down the rodeo trail. “My goal was to be in the top 30. Winning Denver got the ball rolling down the hill faster. It got a lot of people excited among my family and friends, and they’re pushing us to go for it. It opened a lot of doors.
“It also put a lot of confidence in me and my horse that we can do it against all these tough girls.”
The way barrel racing is now, there are tough girls and great horses all across the map. Now that she’s in the top 10, Johnson wants to stay there. That means stretching her comfort zone and reaching out to new places and new venues. The goal, though, is worth it.
Of course, it helps to have confidence in oneself and in the teammate that seems to make things happen. That’s the case for Johnson and Nellie.
“She’s handled everything really good so far, and we’re taking a lot of care into her,” she said. “We’re trying to fit in as many breaks into the schedule as we can. With her, it’s kind of a crucial thing. I’m getting good on my schedule so she can rest as much as she can.
“If I can stay out of her way, she runs a good pattern.”
They’re both pretty good at what they do. They wouldn’t be in this position without it. They might just have the swagger of a champion; at least Nellie does.
“This year, she’s become more of a diva,” Johnson said. “She’s become a little ornery. She used to be just really sweet. I think they know when they’re doing good.”